Democratic Republic of the Congo Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as DRC by Abbreviationfinder, Congo-Kinshasa went to elections 2006 was the first time in 40 years that democratic elections were held in the country. But democratization came and despite a massive UN effort and several peace agreements, the violence in the country has not ceased and both rebel groups and government troops are committing abuses against the civilian population. The judiciary is weak and corruption is widespread.

The last presidential and parliamentary elections held at the end of 2018 after being postponed several times led to a shift in the presidential post, when opposition politician Félix Tshisekedi took over after Joseph Kabila who had been in power since 2006. However, Kabila looked to retain a great influence when his party alliance, the Congo Common Front (FCC), gained its own majority in the National Assembly (and in many provincial assemblies). Many also argue that it was not Tshisekedi who won the election, but another opposition candidate. Several opposition politicians were also banned from participating in the elections (see Current policy). It was also postponed in three districts, where the opposition was strong, due to violence and an outbreak of the infectious viral disease ebola (see Calendar). A number of irregularities were also reported (see Calendar). Election Commission Ceni failed to publish the votes three months before the election, which it must do according to the rules.

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Kabila’s mandate had formally expired in 2016, and the election was postponed time and time again, raising concerns that he intended to try to retain power. Several peaceful opposition protests were defeated by force and many protesters were arrested, despite freedom of assembly guaranteed in the constitution. There are also indications that the security forces have paid people to provoke violence in connection with the opposition’s manifestations. According to Freedom House, dozens of people must have been killed by security forces only in the weeks before the election.

In March 2019, the new president pardoned 700 political prisoners who had been arrested under Kabila’s rule (see Calendar).

Historically, Congo-Kinshasa has been a centralized country on paper. In practice, however, the ties between the capital and the more remote parts of the country have been weak, which created uncertainty about the powers of local leaders and contributed to distrust of the central power.

There are hundreds of political parties, most of them small. Harassment of opposition leaders and their supporters is common.

There are also a large number of voluntary organizations, many of which find it difficult to operate freely. Particularly vulnerable are people who work to defend human rights.

Women are under-represented in politics. Only one of 21 presidential candidates in 2018 was female. 50 of the 485 members elected in the National Assembly that year were women (corresponding to ten percent of the members) and 5 of 108 senators (corresponding to just under five percent).

Freedom of expression and media

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press and opinion, but in practice it is limited. Journalists are subject to harassment by both government officials and non-governmental actors. The rulers try to control the media through censorship, threats, extrajudicial arrests and ill-treatment.

Congo-Kinshasa ended 2019 in 154 out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Organization Reporters Without Borders ranking the freedom of the press in the world’s countries, which is twelve rankings lower than 2013.

During most of the Mobuto regime’s time (1965–1997), the mass media was controlled by the state. In the 1990s, some magazines began to pursue more independent journalism and the media supply is broader today. However, most media are highly politicized and biased in their reporting. The media authority that is supposed to ensure that ethical rules are followed often do not have the power to enforce the rules.

State media has often favored Joseph Kabila’s party. Despite this, there are plenty of materials that criticize the power holders, although these media are also pressured to publish regime-friendly propaganda.

To conduct investigative journalism is associated with great risks. Ten journalists have been killed during Kabila’s time in power. No one has been convicted of these murders.

The media climate was getting worse as the presidential and parliamentary elections that would have been held in 2016 were approaching. Several media related to the opposition were shut down by the authorities. Many of the journalists who reported on the opposition’s demonstrations in 2017 have been arrested and beaten by the state security forces and the intelligence service. Several media with ties to the opposition have also been forced to close. It is also common for the authorities to shut down the network and prevent citizens from communicating via social media.

In July 2018, the authorities tightened the rules for media publishing on the Internet in a way that has caused press freedom organizations to worry that the purpose is to silence all critical voices.

Since the summer of 2017, foreign journalists have also restricted freedom of movement. In order to monitor areas outside Kinshasa, the authorities must give their permission. From the end of 2016 until August 2017, Radio France Internationale (RFI) was prevented from broadcasting from Kinshasa. Similar intervention against the mass media took place around the 2018 election. RFI’s correspondent was banned from working in the country. After the election, the authorities shut down all Internet and SMS traffic.

Paper magazines are mainly found in the larger cities. The traditional press is often owned by politicians. Of the social media, Facebook has the most users.

Due to the limited literacy and high newspaper prices, it is the radio that reaches the most. The state broadcaster RTNC broadcasts programs in the major languages. There are about 100 local radio stations in the country, most of which are privately owned and have links with politicians.


In Congo-Kinshasa there are diamonds, oil and timber as well as cobalt, copper, columbit-tantalite (coltan) and other metals. But instead of promoting development, the natural resources have often been used to fund the country’s struggles (see also Poor people in a rich country). Both government employees and military, rebels and foreigners participate in the exploitation. Large sums also disappear into corruption.

Severe corruption in many cases makes normal financial transactions impossible and economic life is largely outside the control of the government.

High positions in government, administration and government companies often go to relatives of the authorities.

There are no laws that give citizens the right to access government affairs. The rules that state that the president and ministers openly declare their assets are not followed.

According to the organization Transparency International’s index list of perceived corruption in the countries of the world, in 2019, Congo-Kinshasa ranked 168 out of 180 countries. Seven places down compared to the previous year.

Judicial system and legal security

Like all other public activities in Congo-Kinshasa, the judiciary is heavily corrupted, partly due to the lawyers’ low wages and poor working conditions. The judges are appointed by the president. The collapse of the judiciary has resulted in total lawlessness for the individual citizen. In recent years, the cases have often been dealt with by military courts, whose rules are vague and whose ruling cannot be appealed. The defendants rarely have access to a lawyer. Out in the countryside, ordinary courts are often completely missing.

The Congolese judiciary rarely deals with the commonly occurring violations of human rights. Many army unions still act as rebel forces and are guilty of assault, especially in the troubled eastern part of the country. The police often commit torture and rape. The conditions in the detention and prisons are substandard and the inmates are tortured and abused almost routinely.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has charged five people for war crimes committed in Congo-Kinshasa and issued an arrest warrant for a sixth. A seventh Congolese held by the ICC is Jean-Pierre Bemba (see above), who, however, was charged with crimes committed in the Central African Republic in 2002–2003 (see Central African Republic: Political System and Calendar). Bemba was convicted in 2016 of murders and rapes committed by his rebels in the neighboring country to 18 years in prison. He was found guilty of five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecutor had been in prison for 25 years. Bemba, who was Vice President of Congo-Kinshasa 2003-2006, thus became the person of the highest rank judged by the ICC. He was also the first to be convicted of sexual violence in wartime. Bemba appealed against the verdict and was released in June 2018 by the ICC Appellate Unit. He then returned to his home country (see Calendar). However, his candidacy in the 2018 presidential election was rejected as he was convicted of bribing witnesses in connection with the previous judicial process.

Three Congolese have been sentenced to prison by the ICC. Mila leader Thomas Lubanga in 2006 became the first in the world to be arrested on orders by the ICC and in 2012 the first to be dropped. He was sentenced for forced recruitment of child soldiers to 14 years in prison. Lubanga was the leader of a militia in the Ituri region. Another militia leader in Ituri, Germain Katanga, was sentenced in 2014 to twelve years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity (see further Modern History and Calendar). Bosco Ntaganda from the Tutsimilsen M23 was convicted in July 2019 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in November 2019 he was sentenced to 30 years in prison (see Calendar). An FDLR leader, Sylvestre Mudacumura, who was suspected of crimes against humanity was at length free, but was killed by Congolese troops in September 2019. In one case, the ICC has released the suspect from the charges (Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui) and in another case the target has been dropped for lack of evidence (Callixte Mbarushimana).

In the fall of 2015, a German court sentenced two FDLR leaders, Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, to 13 years and 8 years in prison for crimes committed in eastern Congo-Kinshasa (see Calendar).

In domestic courts, a number of Congolese army soldiers and members of Mai-Mai have been sentenced to long prison terms for, among other things, rape. However, in most cases the highest commanders have escaped justice.



Kabila takes over as president

Kabila takes over as president. Veteran Antoine Gizenga of the United Lumumbist Party (Palu) is appointed prime minister.


Kabila defeats Bemba

October 29th

In the second round of the presidential election, Kabila clearly defeats Bemba with 58 percent of the vote. Bemba appeals first, but later agrees to lead the opposition.


Kabila wins the first round of presidential elections

July 30

Presidential and parliamentary elections are held with the support of the UN and the EU. An alliance supporting President Kabila gains a majority in parliament. In the first round of the presidential election, Kabila receives 45 percent of the vote and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba from the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) 20 percent. Severe unrest erupts in Kinshasa between their two private armies when the results are made public.


New foundations enter into force

The new constitution comes into force.